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Doggy Odors: Normal vs. Abnormal

how to fix bad dog odors

If your dog has been smelling like less than a bouquet of roses, there may or may not be an underlying health reason. Let’s get to the bottom of this stinky situation to see why your dog smells bad and what you can do about it.

Normal Odors in Dogs

Dogs naturally produce secretions that enable other dogs to recognize them by smell as dogs and as individuals. Unfortunately, people don’t always appreciate these odors! Natural dog odors are most prominent near the rectum, ears, and paw pads.

A big contributor to smell in dogs is their anal glands. These anal sacs are two scent glands that communicate with the surface of the skin by ducts that open on either side of the anus. They produce a natural secretion that varies from thin and yellowish to pasty and grayish. Anal gland secretions may have a very strong musty to fishy odor. A small amount of this material is normally deposited when dogs defecate, and a large amount may be extruded when a dog is frightened. This secretion is thought to leave a signal to other dogs telling them who left a fecal deposit. This odor is also the signal being sampled when strange dogs investigate one another by sniffing out the anal area.

Additionally, natural microorganisms live on the surface of paw pads and in the external ear canal of dogs, which can give off a lightly yeasty odor even when ears and paws may be healthy.

Causes (and Treatments) of Abnormal Odors in Dogs

Ear infections

Ear infections can either contain yeast or bacteria and both types of infection are malodorous. Simple ear debris will often not have an odor to them like infected ears will have. So, if you notice an unusual odor, redness, or excessive debris in your pet’s ears, or they are scratching at them, it may be time to see your vet.

  • Prevention: Clean ears routinely with an ear-cleansing agent with drying and antiseptic properties. This helps by removing earwax, debris, and odor from the external ear canal and preventing ear infections. Ask your vet for recommended brands.
  • Treatment: Ear infections, such as yeast and bacteria, typically require otic medications prescribed by a vet.
  • Common Ear Problems in Dogs
  • How to Clean Your Dog's Ears

Skin infections

The skin is a natural barrier to infection and when it’s compromised, infection is possible. There are several reasons why a dog's skin may be compromised, resulting in a skin infection. Allergies, hormonal imbalances, fungal infections, external parasites, inflammation, wounds, bleeding tumors, and other skin issues can cause bacteria and yeast on the skin's surface to take hold and produce foul odors.

Your vet can perform tests to identify the type of infection or the underlying cause of the infection through blood work or directly sampling the skin.

  • Treatment: Medicated shampoos, antifungals, antibiotics, and other treatments are usually required to combat these causes of odor.

Anal gland issues

The anal glands produce a fishy-smelling secretion and are one of the most common causes of doggy stench. Dogs naturally express these glands when they defecate but can also secrete this substance when scared or over-excited. If the glands are not expressed naturally, they can become impacted and sometimes abscessed. Dogs will often “scoot” or drag their rear on the ground when their anal glands are full.

  • Manual emptying of the anal glands by a veterinary professional or skilled groomer is the best way to prevent and treat the issue. Ask your vet to check your dog’s anal glands at their next check-up!
  • Incorporating more fiber in the diet, such as canned pumpkin or psyllium husk, can also prevent anal gland issues.
  • If anal gland infection or abscess is present, oral antibiotics will likely need to be prescribed.
  • Recognizing anal gland problems in cats and dogs

Dental disease

Bad breath is difficult to ignore, especially in a dog that regularly licks your face. If bacteria is left to cause dental disease, foul odors will soon follow.

  • To help prevent dental disease and keep the mouth smelling clean, you should brush your dog’s teeth at least three times per week.
  • Veterinarian-approved dental chews and water additives can also help.
  • Professional dental cleanings at your local veterinary hospital are also important to keep bad breath and tooth decay away.
  • Everything You Need to Know About Your Dog’s Dental Health


Dogs occasionally experience flatulence and unfortunately, we have to smell it. Digestive upset from dietary changes like a new food or treat, eating something in the yard, gastrointestinal disease, and even just stress can result in some noxious fumes coming from your dog's hind end. Talk with your vet if the amount of gas seems abnormal or it coincides with other symptoms such as diarrhea.

  • Bland or gastrointestinal diets, probiotics, and decreasing stress may help with this issue.

Internal organ disease

Some diseases that affect the internal organs of a dog can result in bad breath, such as kidney failure and diabetes. These diseases often also cause your pet to feel unwell, eat less, and be less active. If these issues are noticed, contact your vet right away.

Skunk spray

This distinct smell only comes from one source. If your dog has been sprayed by a skunk it will need a special bath to get rid of the smell.

Rolling in something smelly

Dogs love to roll around in smelly things, such as feces, something decaying, or just one of those unknown stinky things. If your dog has been having a little too much fun outside in the yard, a simple bath will undo this damage.

Dirty water

If your dog has recently been swimming in dirty water, an unpleasant odor might linger even after your dog has dried. If this occurs, it's time for a shampoo!

Read more:

Kidney Failure in Dogs

Diabetes in Dogs

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Dogs

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